A child born to Muslim parents will go through numerous ceremonial events by the time he or she is just one week old. Introducing a Muslim child to the world and preparing him or her for lifelong service to Allah are taken very seriously, and Islamic birth rites are painstakingly observed in the majority of Muslim households, even those outside Muslim countries. For Muslim parents who want to give their child the best possible spiritual start in life, Islamic birth rites are all-important.
Health and Positive Attributes
The practice of "tahneek" takes places very shortly after birth. Before the baby is fed milk for the first time, it consumes something sweet. A parent or other esteemed family member chews a sweet piece of fruit (usually a date, but other fruits or honey may be used) and then rubs some of the juice inside the baby's mouth. This practice is believed to help get the baby's digestive system going. It is also hoped that whoever performs the rite will pass along his or her positive attributes to the newborn. Another rite, known as "taweez," is purported to protect the baby from poor health. A string attached to a small pouch containing a prayer is tied around the baby's wrist soon after birth. Taweez is less common but very important to the Muslims who practice it.
Dedication to Allah
The father or respected member of the community performs "adhan" within minutes of the newborn's arrival. Adhan consists of whispering into the baby's ear the Muslim shahadah, or proclamation of faith: "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet." It is crucial for these to be the first words that the baby hears; at the very least, they should be the first spoken to him directly. The shahadah is repeated numerous times daily during prayers for all Muslims and is the first of the five pillars of Islam. Another rite involves shaving the baby's head on the seventh day after birth. The weight of the hair in silver is then given to charity, intended to show that the baby will become a servant of Allah.
Cleanliness for Prayer
Most Muslim male babies are circumcised before their seventh day of life. Almost all of the Muslim world participates in male circumcision. It is believed to be more hygienic than leaving the foreskin and helps with cleanliness. When the child is older, being circumcised will help keep his clothes clean for prayer; when the foreskin is present, small amounts of urine may become trapped underneath and soil the pants. This is especially important because one cannot offer prayers dressed in soiled clothing.
The practice of "aqiqah" is a way of giving thanks to Allah for the birth and health of the newborn. In aqiqah, a sheep is slaughtered, and the meat is distributed to family members and less fortunate members of the community. Some families who live outside of their native land either order the meat from a butcher or opt to have the slaughter performed in their home country. The latter enables the needy there to make use of it, which fulfills the third pillar of Islam--charity. It also can allow family members back home to participate in the celebration.
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